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THE FLOWER-SLIPPERS OF VENUS 



By Lennie Greenlee 



Illustrated from photographs of natural flowers by Pitcher and Manda, 

Although they deign to draw sustenance directly from the earth, the flowers 
of many terrestrial orchids are as ethereal in appearance as the daintier flowery 
varieties that feed only upon dew and air. The stout stem that binds them 
together, the fringed flowers of some of the habenarias, or rein-orchids, and the 
spiranthes, or ladies'-tresses,might almost float away in the air like dandelion-down. 
The largest and best known family of all, however, the Venus-slippers, or cypri- 
pediums, are of more substantial texture. Though made upon a very diminutive fairy 
'Mast" these slippers are of very good *' make " indeed, enduring sometimes for 
five or six weeks in a quite presentable condition, after they have been cut and placed 
in water. A speculative examination of her slippers would lead one to suspect that 
Venus's foot would no longer be considered the standard of beauty for that member, 
judged by modern ideas. It could never have been worn as a weapon, like the dagger- 
pointed shoe of nowadays. But contemplate the comfort of it, ye maids! and you, 
also, messieurs the bachelors ! Plenty of room here for the cramped toes to spread ; 
not even a '^common-sense" heel; and long wide laces that free the mind from 

all anxiety as to fickle and fleet- 
ing buttons. 

A very sensible myth was 
that of the goddess Venus, 
truly; and when, after her nap 
under the trees at the edge of 
the meadow, she soared away 
skyward, her leaving her jewel- 
like shoe behind may have been 
as a pattern for us rather than 
the piece of forgetfulness we 
charge her with. Would that 
our maids and mesdames might 
receive it so! In poor human- 
ity's shoes, at present, only the 
wooden sabots of the rosy- 
faced Hollanders, and the 
stealthy, beaded moccasins of 
the Indian, suggest their shape. 
It should not be forgotten, in- 
deed, that this resemblance has 
already been noted, for in the 
United States the cypripediums 
are often known popularly as 
moccasin-plants, moccasin- 
flowers and Indian-shoes. 

Another pretty fable must 




A VENUS-SLIPPER WITH LONG LACES : CYPRIPEDIUM 
DOMINIANUM 



/«84 



Vv 



The Flower-Slippers of Venus 



needs be invented 
for that large, 
branch of the cyp- 
ripedium family 
which, in its tropi- 
cal home, grows 
•high in the air. 
'This, let us con- 
^veniently suppose, 
was some other 
Clipper, worn on 
state occasions, 
that Venus let fall 
in the tree- tops, 
for' even divine 
laces- may be sup- 
posed, to be treach- 
erous- - sometimes, 
and. the goddess 
may, perhaps, have been as 
We have come to regard even 




CYPRIPEDIUM MASEREELIANUM 




•THE COMMONEST SLIPPER-ORCHID: CYPRIPEDIUM INSIGNE 



careless of them as the modern maidens of hair-pins. 

these tree-top cypripeds as terrestrial orchids, because 
the majority of them can be 
grown in pots of peat and moss 
or loam, the only sure dividing 
line that lay cultivators know, 
between the epiphytal "flowers 
of the air" and the "flowers 
of the earth." 

Many genera of orchids are 
so bewilderingly divergent in 
some varieties, and so alike in 
really different species, that, as 
with a number of laelias and 
cattleyas, they can be distin- 
guished only by the pollen- 
masses; but the flower of any 
cypriped can be told at a glance 
from those of any other genus 
by its curious shape. There 
are two sepals, forming the 
outer envelope of the flower, 
when it is rolled up in its cun- 
ning, curious, club-shaped bud 
at the top of its stiff, dark, 
fuzzy stem. As the flower opens 
the lower sepal is concealed 
beneath the large pouch which 
forms the toe of the slipper. 



:The Flower-Slippers of Venus 



v28j; 




CYPRIPEDIUM ALBO-PURPUREUM: WHITE AND CRIMSON 



The upper or dorsal sepal 
spreads itself :abov,e the poucK, 
and is 'usually quite large' and 
brightly colored. The two 
petals, one on each side, are 
drooping spirals, sometimes 
short, sometimes, long, grow- 
ing two inches or more in a 
day. . They form. the *' laces'/ 
of the fairy slipper.. .Some of 
the petals of cypripedium have 
been found to measure thirty 
inches in length. 

The Venus-slippers, like all 
flowers, class themselves into 
congenial groups. The first 
and larger of these groups is 
scattered widely over tropical 
Asia, where the most casual 
observer would note the broad, 
rounded character of its foli- 
age; while the leaves of the 
South American, or seleniped- 
ium clique, are long, narrow 
and pointed. In the third branch of the famijy are found the Venus-slippers of our 
north-temperate zone, which possess tall stems that last only a year, though the root 
is perennial, such as the showy *'spectabile," the rose-pink **acaule," and the 
yellow ** pubescens" of May and June. 

Although the thick, shining leaves of all cypripediums are quite handsome, 
some of the species in the first group, as Cypripedium Lawrenceanum, and Cypri- 
pedium Hookerae, have foliage beautifully checkered with cream, white, or brown. 
Many of them have shown themselves so willing to grow under even adverse cir- 
cumstances, that their culture is now being attempted with considerable success 
even in ordinary window- 
boxes. The favorite among 
them, the brightest, freest 
of bloom, and most easily 
cultivated one, seems to 
be the fine sturdy old Cy- 
pripedium insigne, which 
produces radiant flowers 
of sunshiny yellow, white, 
and brown. In the intro- 
duction of one of its 
hybrids, the beautiful vari- 
ety Spicerianum, there is 
a good example of the 
fluctuation of prices in cypripedium bellatulum 




286 



The Flower-Slippers of Venus 



orchids, in regard to which I find the following 
interesting note : 

** A few years ago, a piece of what was sup- 
posed to be the golden Cypripedium insigne 
was sent from British India to an Englishman; 
but on flowering, it proved to be altogether 
the brightest of Venus-slippers, with a distinct 
and distinguished air which made every orchid- 
fancier eager to secure it. Meanwhile, an alert 
collector had discovered its haunt, and after a 

four weeks' 









































: .- , ,f' 










i^ -^ y 






W''^<iW::\- 





race with a 
rival from 
Calcutta to 
Manipur, he 
gathered 
some thou- 
sands of 
plants from 

the faces of the cliffs whereon they grew, and 
sent them to London. In January a plant of this 
cypripedium, variety Spicerianum, commanded 
$1,250; in May plants were sold at auction for 
fifty cents." 



CVPRIPEDIUM L.KVAGATUM 



Had the 
price of this 
orchid de- 
pended upon 
the increase 
of the one 
plant first 
imported, 
very few of 
us could, 
even yet, af- 
ford to enjoy 
its lovely 
flowers. A 
vigorous cyp- 
ripedium, , if 
it exerts it- 
self, may in a year grow large enough to be 
separated into two or three plants, but this is 
too high a rate of increase to be commonly ex- 
pected from such an aristocratic, leisurely-going 
family as this is. From seeds produced by 
hybridizing, cypripediums increase more rapid- 
ly, and the varieties may be multiplied and 




CYPRIPEDIUM MAGNIFLORUM. 




CYPRIPEDIUM SCHRCEDERJE 



The Flower-Slippers of Venus 



287 




CYPRIPEUIUM HOOKER^E 

and bearded flowers, with a fierce 
There is a human expression in 
many of these odd flowers that 
almost compels one to make 
some such fanciful comparison 
or interpretation. 

Close beside it, upon the 
green-house benches, may grow- 
in striking contrast, the dainty, 
rosy, little blonde belles of the 
family, Cypripedium Schlimii, 
and Cypripedium cardinale, ex- 
quisite examples of beauty, both 
in form and in delicacy of col- 
oring. Cypripedium bellatulum 
and Cypripedium Godefroyse 
are pale leopard-like little 
gnomes, that seem to have 
caught their complexion from 
the limestone cliffs where they 
had their birth. 

I have sought in vain for the 
fitness of the name, " Niobe," 
for the flower to which it be- 
longs. The blossom has a very 
bright, charming little face, de- 
lightfully colored with soft 



inter-mixed interminably. It is so fascinating 
a work to dust one flower with pollen from an- 
other, to watch the seeds ripen and germinate, 
and the traits of the parents gradually appear 
as the young plants grow, that it is a wonder 
more persons do not engage in it. What 
castles in Spain the owner builds while a group 
of seedlings is in bud! Cypripedium Harris- 
ianum was the first artificial hybrid, and its 
beauty still entitles it to a proud and dignified 
place as the eldest representative of a family 
much larger than that of the old woman who 
lived in a shoe. It blooms twice a year. 

Artiong the plants growing by thousands 
upon the benches in a large commercial estab- 
lishment, I once saw three blooms of this spe- 
cies joined together in the dorsal sepal, with 
the rounded pouches hanging below, like a gro- 
tesque chime of bells. 

Cypripedium Lawrenceanum, one of the 
most popular sorts, has wide, defiantly striped 
warrior-like air that reminds one of Bluebeard. 




CYPRIPEDIUM CALURUM-ROUGIERI 



288 



The Flower-Slippers of Venus 




CYPRIPEDIUM VENUSTUM 



apple-greens, rich bright browns, vio- 
let, white and rose. Cypripedium 
Sedeni, a constant bloomer, and cal- 
uram, with handsome flowers of deep 
warm wine-red, are also among the 
most popular styles of those artificial 
hybridized varieties which may be 
termed hand-made Venus-slippers. 

But there are other terrestrial 
orchids, too curious and beautiful to 
be entirely over-shadowed even by 
Venus herself. The Lycaste, or 
' * monk-orchid, ' ' seems likely to have a 
future as wide as that of the tulips. Of 
all the tropical orchids it is one of the 
hardiest in constitution, and perhaps 
the easiest to cultivate. From deep 
rose to a tint only less white than the 
hawthorn, we have a gamu-tof delicious 
color-tones, and this in a plant conspic- 
uous for .its broad, fine foliage, and glorious in its ample floral garments. 
• Even still better known, and held in loving remembrance, is the ** Dove- 
orchid " (Peristeria elata), called by the Spaniards el Spirito Sancto, or flower of the 
Holy Ghost. The white waxen blossoms are set upon long, rich spikes, and in the 
centre of each flower nestles a pure white dove. This plant blooms in mid-sum- 
mer, and in tropical countries is grown 
like our garden-lilies. 

Disa grandiflora, the pride.of. Table 
Mountain, at the Cape o£ GocdrHope- 
South Africa, is counted the .showiest 
and most beautiful ; terrestrial orchid 
yet discovered.. It also blooriis [n mid- 
summer, and all the. fire in the heart of 
the great wild continent seems aflame 
in the intense scarlet" of its blossoms" 
They are each three or four inches in 
diameter, and from one to five are 
borne upon long stems. 

Now all the sorts of , terrestrial 
Qrchids, many of them as beautiful 
as these, could not, of course, be 
dwelt upon in this essay. They are 
well and" fully described in Williams's 
most complete ** Orchid Manual," by 
one who loved and knew them thor- 
oughly; and there are plenty of other 
^ sources of , information for the inquir- 

CYPRIPEDIUM BARBATUM-NIGRUM '^S readCr.